By now you'll have heard that eBay is acquiring Skype for between $2.6 - 4.1 billion. For good round-ups of the deal, I recommend Rob Hof, Jeff Clavier and PaidContent.org. They all cover the financial and business theories much better than I could do. And Russell Shaw has covered the IP telephony side of the story. What I'm going to focus on is the 'Web as Platform' implications of the eBay purchase.
There are two main aspects of this purchase which intrigue me. The first is that eBay is building out its communications platform with this purchase. It will continue to run Skype as a standalone Internet Telephony business, but it will also use Skype's telephony and IM product line as a platform to extend its own e-commerce business. I'm not sure I buy the line about eBay buyers and sellers wanting to communicate with each other via voice, but I do believe it will open up new lines of business for eBay - lead generation is the example eBay used in its presentation to investors.
eBay is one of the big Internet players, alongside Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Amazon. They all have very strong communications platforms, enabling them to attract millions of users who interact with each other on their sites. That's called community and it's very important in the Web 2.0 world. Amazon for example is where hundreds of thousands of people go to enter book and music reviews. Yahoo has millions of people signed up to and regularly using its MyYahoo portal. Google has the very popular Gmail and now an IM/telephony service integrated with it. eBay itself has 157 million customers and a thriving buyer and seller community. Perhaps eBay sees IP telephony and IM as the next level of its Web community platform - much like Google recently ramping up on those things too.
The other interesting angle I see in this is what eBay termed the "global footprint" in its investor announcement. Skype is used worldwide, whereas eBay has limited worldwide presence. So there's a lot of potential for eBay to expand into global markets. As a personal example, eBay doesn't operate in my country (New Zealand) - yet I rely on Skype as one of my main communications channels. I could see myself starting to use eBay if it was relatively easy to register for and utilise a buyer/seller account via my Skype account. I don't think I'd use telephony, but I may use IM to sort out transaction details or look for good deals.
Also let's not forget that Skype is a desktop app and so eBay automatically gains a foothold on some 54 million PCs (the number of registered users Skype has).
So all up, I think the deal has a fair amount of promise for eBay to extend itself as a Web Platform company - getting itself on a level footing with Google and Yahoo in particular. I'll leave it to others to decide whether the price was right, but from a Web 2.0 perspective eBay has just made itself interesting again!